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21st-century stagnation in unvegetated sand-sea activity

June 27, 2022

Sand seas are vast expanses of Earth’s surface containing large areas of aeolian dunes—topographic patterns manifest from above-threshold winds and a supply of loose sand. Predictions of the role of future climate change for sand-sea activity are sparse and contradictory. Here we examine the impact of climate on all of Earth’s presently-unvegetated sand seas, using ensemble runs of an Earth System Model for historical and future Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) scenarios. We find that almost all of the sand seas decrease in activity relative to present-day and industrial-onset for all future SSP scenarios, largely due to more intermittent sand-transport events. An increase in event wait-times and decrease in sand transport is conducive to vegetation growth. We expect dune-forming winds will become more unimodal, and produce larger incipient wavelengths, due to weaker and more seasonal winds. Our results indicate that these qualitative changes in Earth’s deserts cannot be mitigated.

Publication Year 2022
Title 21st-century stagnation in unvegetated sand-sea activity
DOI 10.1038/s41467-022-31123-8
Authors Andrew Gunn, Amy E. East, Douglas J. Jerolmack
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Communications
Index ID 70232393
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center